Tuesday, 5 February 2008

Cuba # 1 - Havana (Feb08)

My first visit to the Caribbean (last month) was to the west's only communist country... Cuba.

I've always wanted to go there after seeing a doco on it years ago where people partied in the streets, dancing and laughing and seeming so warm and friendly and passionate...

The reality is very different. Socialism is no longer working for the country and hasn't been since the fall of the Soviet Union in the early 90s. That's when Cuba's economy went tits-up, as without the support of the large and fellow anti-American commy country, the practicalities of socialism didn't survive. And now its a broken country, still living in the heyday of the Revolution some 50 odd years ago.

Havana was where we landed and were supposed to spend 3 days exploring. This is what we encountered: run down old buildings, crappy roads and lots of loitering people who befriend you and then ask for money. We lasted 2 days and 1 night there. The other half was entirely adamant about leaving - he didn't feel comfortable at all, at least in his home country of Africa he knows what to expect and what to look out for, but not knowing the language or the layout was a bit much for him.

The interesting stuff was the amount of political propaganda on signs, no other advertising, just the government bigging itself up and talking about the revolution and likening Bush to Hitler.

There was also no beach to speak of in Havana, just a sea wall where we were accosted by people asking for money. We had trouble also finding any cafes or bars to refresh in. Ended up having drinks/food in hotels. All very odd - they need to clean up that city. The old buildings are beautiful but you wouldn't set foot in most of them for fear of them falling down around your ears.

The only good thing about it is all the old cars - they have loads of buicks, cadillacs, chevvys, any big old american car from the 40s, 50s and 60s. Its like a living car museum. Hardly any of them look road worthy but hey, they are colorful and give the place character!

Also the B&B or casa particular we stayed at was lovely, clean and friendly. We felt very guilty about checking out early as the landlady was great. She had warned us about Havana's downside and understood that we didn't want to hang around. Her daughter lives in Norway and said basically her entire generation had left Cuba - there was nothing there for them as the economy is in such bad shape and there is no way to make money. Its such a shame as it could be a wonderful place with its location, its culture, the warm people and the history. They don't have to lose their sense of identity, they just have to move forward as everything has to.

BTW - Fidel stepped down the day after we arrived back in London. But his brother took over so no real change there, then.

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